US ends Covid-19 national emergency after three years

White House says 'we're not out of the pandemic' but 'in a different place'

Tributes in art made by 20 community groups to those affected by Covid-19, at Green-Wood Cemetery on May 8 in Brooklyn, New York City. AFP
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The Covid-19 public health emergency in the US will end on Thursday, marking a major transition from the pandemic that killed at least 1.1 million people in the country, the most recorded for any nation.

The policy change Covid will now be treated as a respiratory virus among the many that spread nationally.

"We're not out of the pandemic, we’re certainly in a different place," White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said on Tuesday. "And that’s because of what this President has been able to do.

"When you think about how Covid deaths have declined by 95 per cent, new Covid-19 hospitalisations are down nearly 88 per cent, and Covid-19 cases and deaths globally are at its lowest levels since the start of the pandemic."

The public health emergency was declared under then president Donald Trump's administration in January 2020.

Since then, the US recorded more than 100 million infections and a recession through political and societal turmoil.

Then there was a historic mass vaccination campaign with approval in record speed, but lagging acceptance compared to countries of similar wealth.

President Joe Biden oversaw an economic recovery of sorts with record-high inflation and low unemployment.

The World Health Organisation ended its public health emergency of international concern for Covid-19 last week, but said the virus continued to be a formidable threat.

The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention still records more than 75,000 cases of Covid-19 — probably an undercount because of less testing — and 1,100 deaths from it each week.

It is the fourth leading cause of death in the country.

Mr Biden's administration first opposed Congressional efforts to end the emergency, calling the move a "great disservice to the American people".

But the President signed a resolution formally ending the health crisis response last month.

It allowed the US government to supply free Covid tests, treatments and vaccines nationally. It also allowed greater social safety net benefits for those hit hardest by the virus.

With the emergency ending, Covid vaccines and Paxlovid will probably remain free for most Americans, while costs may be introduced for tests and treatments.

The government-run free Covid-19 test site will stop taking orders at the end of May.

The Biden administration asserts that it will ensure access to services for uninsured people, while care will move into the private market for insured Americans.

Tele-health services have been extended for communities with hard-to-reach care through 2024.

It is not clear what the future is for Covid-19 vaccinations. US regulatory agencies have moved towards updates for annual seasonal immunisations, while some say Covid has not become a seasonal virus like the flu.

The requirement for federal workers and international travellers to be vaccinated against Covid-19 has ended.

The CDC will no longer have access to data that will allow it to regularly report cases and transmission rates.

It will now report death counts and organise Covid-19 hospital admissions. The health agency is working to use wastewater data.

Updated: May 11, 2023, 2:30 AM